With focus on Gaza there is escalation of Israeli settler violence in the West Bank

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There is “a real risk” that the occupied territory of Palestine in the West Bank “will spiral out of control,” the UN said this week.

This risk is caused by the rapid increase in uncontrolled violence carried out by armed settlers, backed by the Israeli army, against unarmed Palestinians, especially in the unprotected agricultural areas of the occupied Palestinian territories since October 7. Such violence is directly linked to Ben Gvir’s arms distribution to the settlers and the green light of the Israeli fascist government.

This increase in violence can also be attributed to far-right figures now in power in the Israeli government. Among them is the far-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was denied entry into the Israeli army because his views were too racist and extreme against the Palestinians. Since the outbreak of hostilities on October 7, he has recently been seen distributing even more weapons to the already well-armed Israeli settlers. Others include Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Finance, who defends typesetters who commit violence. Also included is Limor Son Har-Melech, a settler and member of the Kahanist party, who railed against security officials who spoke out against the settler movement.

Since October 7, Palestinian towns and villages across the occupied territory have been cut off from each other by Israeli lockdowns and the threat of settler attacks, resulting in a near-complete commercial standstill and severe restrictions on movement. And as the eyes of the world focus on the massacres and genocide being perpetrated against the civilians of Gaza, settlers and soldiers in the (OPT) have increased their attacks on innocent, unarmed Palestinians. The UN has reported that the weeks after October 7 have been the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank so far this year, with at least 123 Palestinians killed by the Israeli army or settlers, including 34 children. There was also a rare Israeli airstrike that bombed the Jenin camp on October 12, killing at least twelve people.

About 2,157 Palestinians, including at least 201 children, were also injured. The UN reports that incidents of settler violence have risen 23% to eight per day, with injuries from live ammunition now eight times higher than before October 7. So far, there have been 178 settler attacks on Palestinians in the past three weeks.

Young and old are not spared either. On October 30, Israeli forces shot dead a 14-year-old child during a search and arrest operation near the Zawata junction in the city of Nablus. On October 31, an elderly man, a bystander, was shot dead during a search and arrest operation in the city of Tuba.

But far out of sight in the remote areas of the West Bank, Bedouins and herders are being specifically targeted by armed violent religious fanatic settlers in a systematic border war against small hamlets composed mainly of pastoralists and farmers. Attacks are not only against individuals, but also occur in infrastructure such as houses, agriculture-related structures, cars, trees and saplings.

Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem reports that during the current offensive, violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians has escalated sharply, blocking them from accessing their land, attacking them while picking olives, driving them from their fields and killing Palestinians are attacked who move on the roads. The prevention of access to water and food, especially in pastoral communities, is orchestrated by Israel with the aim of displacing Palestinian communities in those areas. The illegal Israeli settlers also launched widespread incitement campaigns on social media against the Palestinians, which were filled with explicit threats against the Palestinians, threatening them with beatings, destroying property and killing them. This phenomenon has terrified the Palestinians, making their movement fraught with danger and fear.

One person receiving such a threat is Abed Wadi from the village of Qusra in the northern part of the West Bank, near Nablus. He received an image and a message, forwarded to him by a friend, of a group of masked men posing with axes, a gas can and a chainsaw, with text printed on the image in Hebrew and Arabic. “To all the rats in the sewers of Qusra village: we are waiting for you and we will not mourn you.” said the text. “The day of revenge is coming.That day, Abed Wadi went to a funeral for four Palestinians from the village. Three had been killed the day before – Wednesday, October 11 – after Israeli settlers entered Qusra and attacked a Palestinian family’s home. The fourth was shot dead during subsequent clashes with Israeli soldiers.

The mayor of Qusra, Hani Awda Abu Alaa, reported that the residents of Qusra live in fear and attacks on the village occur daily. These attacks include killing villagers, attacking the local mosque, burning olive groves, and other attacks aimed at violent intimidation and intimidation. He noted that illegal Israeli settlers are constantly violent against his village and surrounding villages, especially now that the war in Gaza has given them more power.

The purpose of this violence is to make it untenable for Palestinians to remain on their land. This depopulation has already taken place in other areas. In at least two villages, Al-Qanub and Wadi Al-Sik, there are no Palestinians left due to the violence and aggression of Israeli settlers. The remaining villages are deliberately cut off from other towns and cities in the West Bank.

An example of how this is achieved is the following report. On October 12, Israeli soldiers and illegal Israeli settlers attacked Wadi al-Siq, frightening the residents and firing their weapons into the air like crazed cowboys, forcing most residents to flee. But they also, as reported in Haartz (October 12), kidnapped three Palestinians and several Israeli peace activists before subjecting them to severe physical abuse, including harsh beatings, burning their skin with cigarettes and attempted sexual assault. They were blindfolded, handcuffed and stripped to their underwear during hours of torture by Israeli settlers and soldiers. The Israeli activists were there to try to protect the residents and to witness this ethnic cleansing.

The settlers and soldiers also stole phones, IDs, cash and a car from the people they kidnapped. The Israelis were released after a few hours, while the Palestinians – two of whom are employees of the Palestinian Authority’s Colonization and Wall Resistance Committee and the other a resident of the village – were held until late in the evening.

So who is carrying out these terrifying attacks? In 2020, the Israeli army established a unit called the Desert Frontier, subordinate to the Jordan Valley Brigade. This unit consists mainly of Jewish extremist youth on hilltops. Trained by the military, they are young, religious, violent, fanatical settlers who regularly descend from their outposts in the occupied West Bank to attack nearby Palestinians. Many of the farmers and Bedouins living in these areas have little or no protection. On October 30, a group of Israeli settlers broke into the pastoral community of Isfey al Tahta in southern Hebron and set fire to a donor-funded residential building.

Other small Palestinian Bedouin villages in the occupied West Bank are also being depopulated in a tidal wave that has increased in the past two weeks. IDF soldiers rarely act to prevent these attacks and sometimes even participate in them. Soldiers serving in the West Bank are often settlers themselves. Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has documented some of the attacks and is sharing videos online. In one, an Israeli settler, accompanied by an Israeli soldier, shoots a man at close range.

Palestinian farmers are particularly vulnerable at this time, during the annual olive harvest. If they cannot pick their olives, they lose an annual income. Yesterday, Bilal Muhammed Saleh from the village of As-Sawiya south of Nablus was killed by settlers while tending his olive trees. He was yet another Palestinian murdered by settlers since the start of the current war. The violence extends across Area C, a part of the occupied West Bank under Israeli security and civilian control, which includes the South Hebron Hills, the area east of Ramallah towards Jericho, the Jordan Valley and Nablus. Area C covers about 60% of the West Bank, much of its eastern half. Safeguarding the Palestinians would permanently deny them a potential border with Jordan.

The ongoing demolition of homes also continues in Area C, where some 545 Palestinians from at least 13 communities have been forcibly displaced since October 7, according to information from the West Bank Protection Consortium (WBPC) and Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din. Another 121 Palestinians were displaced after the demolition of their homes by Israeli authorities due to the lack of building permits issued by Israel or as a punitive measure.

When war broke out on October 7, 70% of standing IDF forces were stationed in the West Bank, and most of those 70% were protecting isolated settler enclaves in predominantly Palestinian areas, leaving Israelis unable to remain secure within the sovereign borders of the country. With the IDF on the ‘front’ in Gaza, settlers have a free hand in the West Bank and believe no one is paying attention to their crimes. It has become even more lawless, with Palestinians paying the price.

This process of ethnic cleansing in the remote areas of the West Bank, in which impoverished, unprotected herders are being driven from their lands and homes by violent ‘hilltop’ Israeli settlers and Israeli youth, supported by the Israeli army, is a violent ethnic cleansing on the West Bank. a broad scale. The attempt is to leave a vast area from eastern Ramallah to the outskirts of Jericho empty of Palestinians. With more and more land being captured, the prospect of a two-state solution (long dead) cannot be touted as a solution by our Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong. It is dead, dead and the Palestinians are still there in the apartheid enclaves. They are sure this is the case, but refuse to support the possibility of peace, which at least starts with a ceasefire against Gaza.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.

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